Jean Marie Gunner

Jean Marie Gunner
We are all basically good.

Monday, December 5, 2016

My Mother: Poem and Essay

My Mother: Poem and Essay


“Reflection: For My Mother”
October 6, 2006

All the memories exist somewhere between the busy days, packed schedules, children’s lives, school, and work
The love and laughter of my own now distant childhood reside in the stolen moments of reflection
I close my eyes, turn down the hyper-speed of my mind and reflect
It is to the long, slow, easy days of summer I return
I am a teenage girl sitting with my mother on our front porch
I see us huddled together in waves of conversation and laughter on warm summer evenings
Engaged in talks of my heart’s wishes on love and life’s possibility
My constant wondering and questioning if my heart would be fulfilled, if it would remain unbroken
I can hear even now my mother’s wise countenance and certain reassurances that life will always work out
She just knew that
I sometimes doubted her, resisted her insight but wanted to believe her
I reflect now that she just knew
Not necessarily that life turned out
But that we do survive intact, better, wiser, happier
And that laughter is the best healer
That it takes a thousand muscles to frown
And just one to smile
The wishes of the heart may need to grown up
Still her counsel that life works its way out was true
It has
Witness the love and the connection and coming together
To celebrate and cherish the ones we love
To cherish the Mother we love
I’m attached to the reflections of those summer evenings
As I am attached to her, my mother
And to those sacred memories shared with my mother many years ago as a hopeful young woman
When she had the wisdom to emulate resilience and innocence
This wonderful world of memories forms me, molds me, and shapes me
As a woman who has, too, become a mother
And the best that I can wish for and dream of now
Is to offer to my children
The same wise words that life will indeed always work out
That it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown
And trust that someday they, too, can share a similar reflection
Thank you mom for it all!


      This is the story as I know it, as it was transmitted in words and otherwise.

I struggle with the beginning.  I am not quite sure when it began or if it was always with us.  My mother is the connector of my family.  She is our glue.  I can be quite sure that without her, without her making it through her dark times and touching just this side of death, we would have been scattered in all directions, lost maybe forever.
My brothers and I were merely babies when our mother was expecting her last baby.  She told me that she planned on nursing this baby.  She felt particularly close to him resting inside of her, nuzzling in her deep insides.  Our brother John was to be born in February 1969. 
When I was just three, our mother was taken to the hospital for observation and mandated bed rest.  This pregnancy was particularly difficult for her.  He was a large baby and her placenta’s placement was dubious.  Just after Christmas of 1968 on December 30th, the day before the New Year’s Eve, our mom was transported away from us and placed in Mercy Hospital.  We did not see her again for a very long time. 
It has always felt to me that we lost our mother and our father and my little baby brother that year after Christmas right before the start of another year.  We lost so much, so much of our innocence and trust and so much of our mother’s spirit. 
          Many relatives and friends stepped in to assist with the care of three young children under the age of six.  Our father was on the road much of the time.  His job as a Greyhound bus driver required that he be away from us and our mother. 
          My mom spent long days in the hospital from December very pregnant and uncomfortable and missing her young children.  Her baby lay transverse inside of her uterus a position absolutely regarded as not conducive for a safe delivery.  I imagine my mother back then trying to pass time watching a black and white television with episodes of Leave it to Beaver and the 6 o’clock new reel.  I imagine her staring for hours on end out the glass window panes and the snow blowing cold against her hospital window.  I imagine her running her fingers along the sill and trying to conjure up the smell and feel of her little ones at home.  I imagine her fearing leaving us alone with others even if they were family.  I imagine her worry over the baby she was carrying inside of her.  The baby that feels her every beat of his small baby’s heart, hears the silence between each one and moves in rhythm with her fluid motion and movement.  I think she remembers this with him more so than with any of us. 
          She has told me that she felt closer to John and a special bond with him during this last pregnancy of hers.  She really looked forward to breastfeeding him and slowing down with him.  Perhaps she knew she’d never be pregnant again.  Or maybe she knew somehow that the only physical relationship she’d ever have with him would be that of absolute oneness and complete dependence in a state of pregnant union and bliss.
          My mother was and still is to this day a very worried and protective mother.  I have thought of her as overly controlling, not wanting us to leave her or grow up.  Now I see why this is.  I also see that I am in so many ways, subtle and not so subtle, just like her.  I incessantly concern myself with imaginings of my children’s untimely deaths, or my untimely death or some other horrible thing happening like abduction, accident, or illness.  Thoughts and anxieties like these haunt me. 
          The last baby leaves the last mark on our psychic wombs.  It imprints us and we keep dreaming of this last time.  Just how the baby danced and turned inside of our bodies.  How he hiccoughed and poked and elbow in our side or kicked our ribs or bladder with his feet.  We remember the fullness of our ripe and ready to feed breasts.  They are so full with milk, poised to spray with force the nourishment that has been building in them through a chemical mixture of prolactin, oxytocin and other lactating hormones.  Sometimes I dream of rock hard breasts that point like torpedoes outward.  They stand on attention ready and able to feed the most hungry and malnourished of babies.  Just last night I dreamt of these same breasts and practically begged my seven year old to nuzzle up and suckle.  He began to drink and as my left breast emptied its contents into his body, I felt relief and satisfaction and joy.  He left my breast drained and relieved of its weight.  It dangled from my body and I felt sheer satisfaction for a job well done.   My breast was emptied, my child fed.  What more could a mother want?
          As a young child I would cling with real fear to my mother during trips to the doctor’s office.  Sometimes my fear would manifest itself in full body rash with hives covering my entire trunk.  My heart would race and I would become extremely cold or hot.  I swore to myself that if my mother ever died I, too, would die.  I did not want to be without her again.  I felt so left alone, so frightened of being left alone once more. 
          They took our mom to a cold and sterile hospital between Christmas and New Year’s Eve Day 1969, and did not return her to us until many long months later.  She came back to us hooked up to a large machine, a portable device that drained her kidney and collected her urine.  She lay on the couch in pain enshrouded in a cloud of suffering.  It hung like a broken, fractured soul over her.  We had her back physically only.  We had lost our mother to her own loss of her baby.  She had lost parts of her body, a kidney, a ureter, a uterus; she had lost her soul – her newborn son.  Her soul was forever changed.  We were all forever changed.
          On the seventh day of February 1969, my mother felt an excruciating pain tear through her.  It ripped her from the inside out.  She writhed and called out for mercy.  The insides of her, the safe haven for her baby was tearing open, ripping apart. Months before, her doctor had placed her in the hospital to take her off her feet away from her young ones so she could rest.  This decision took her out of her home, her safe haven away from her family.  Her baby was positioned inside of her across her womb, an unsafe position in which to deliver.  To make matters more complicated, her placenta had grown near the opening of her cervix, a serious medical condition known as placenta previa.  My mother was also a smoker.  Smoking was a risk factor known to increase the odds of uterine rupture.  My mother had always expressed to me that smoking actually was helpful in her case as it kept the weight of her newborns to a manageable size.  John, her last baby was her largest baby weighing in at nearly ten pounds, an extremely large baby for my mother to deliver vaginally. 
          In the weeks preceding, her doctor tried to attempt a turn of her baby and then bound her with towels so her baby could not again move back into his transverse lie.  I can only imagine the stress this must have placed on her laying there bound in that hospital bed, feeling her baby’s agitation grow inside of her.  How could she possibly stand this indecency, this mindless barbarian procedure?  How could her baby be forced into this position with the cord tightening around his little neck?  As was uncovered later during that fateful day of my youngest brother’s delivery, the cord was wound tightly around his neck. When the time came for John to make his way to his mother’s arms, he did so under very stressful and difficult conditions.  His mother was worn out by the procedures and treatments and separation from her children and husband.  I can only imagine that John was already drained from being forced to stay in a position the doctor deemed correct placement.  He began his journey to meet his mother, to suckle at her breast, to feel her warmth and meet his brothers and sister.  He initiated his descent.  Only the placenta blocked his entranceway to this world and he was being strangled by the cord that had been his lifeline.  He began to struggle and his heart raced as he was all tangled up inside of his mother.  He panicked and became distressed.  His breathing was shallow and his oxygen was being cut off.  The cord and placenta were not able to deliver enough oxygen for him to safely breathe.  In this stressful situation, he pushed head first his way out, his mother’s body contracting trying to assist him with his entrance to this world, to her world, his mother’s world, my mother’s world.  In the tangle of confusion, there was a small rip, it grew larger and larger and suddenly the struggle for life, and breath and mother was all that either baby or mother could feel.  My mother was caught up in the race of her life.  She shrieked and screamed to the nurse, to the staff, to anyone who would or could hear her cries, her desperate pleas of help.  As her placenta was tearing away from its anchor, blood began to pour into the womb where John struggled to free himself of his prison.  The place that had been safe and warm and filled with the resounding and comforting heart beat of his mother became his death chamber.  On his one shot left to live, he and her body worked in unison to free him resulting in a fissure, a ruptured uterus.  My mother screamed out for God to take her with her baby, blood poured out of her vagina on the operating room.  Death awaited both her and her baby.  Soon three other small children would be motherless.
          My mother had started labor the three days prior.  Earlier in the day on February 7th, when my mother’s contractions began, she felt discomfort such that she had not felt during her three previous deliveries.  The unease and sense of discomfort only worsened throughout the morning.  My mother told the nurse, Sister Jean-Baptiste that something was definitely different this time, it felt wrong.  Birthing mothers know when something is wrong, particularly veteran mothers.  Sister Jean phoned the doctor pleading with him to arrive otherwise he would be faced with a dire outcome, two dead.  He didn’t make it on time.  My mother lay begging for help with a tragic end imminent and only Sister Jean was there for spiritual comfort, no medical team head up by a surgeon to free my mother of her pain and our tiny brother John of his suffocation.         
          From the view of a mother of two healthy boys, and my mother’s only daughter, I feel the need to know the details; the questions pop into my mind about what happened to my mom that fatal day, what led up to it, how she felt, the minutia of moment by moment of that time that slows down taking on a rhythm and life all its own.
          My mom is aging and she is as frail and ravaged by years of smoking and lack of real movement and exercise due to emotional and physical suffering of thirty years of crippling rheumatoid arthritis.  I remember back to my early teenage years a span of nights where my mother lay on the couch in our home in agony.  Her body began to attack itself as is the case with autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.  My younger brother was there for her, rubbing her and meeting her emotional needs as she struggled with her pain much the same way Sister Jean-Baptiste comforted my mom all those many years ago as she labored in duress with John. 

          Sister Jean held my mother while she lay bleeding to death.  My grandfather said to my mom, pleading, ‘you must live Sissy Girl you have three babies at home waiting for you. ‘

          My mom can only hold a short conversation about this tragedy even with over 40 years between her and that event. I imagine that the emotional damage was extensive, cellular in nature impacting her everywhere in her body and mind.  The damage and tragic events of that time and day even extend beyond my mom.  They impacted her other three living children then and in some ways still now do.  It is not as if we ever really discussed it, or embraced it, or grieved it as a family unit.  This sort of communication doesn’t flow easily in our family.  It is the sort of thing we had to grieve or deal with individually.  We all sought ways to assuage our pain.

I medicated in a number of ways, mostly in the relationship arena, always looking outside of myself for my personal security to another person.  Falling in and building a wall of love was my escape. 
          Now as we all are in our forties, some of the terrifying feelings of abandonment and loneliness and the anger are dissipating for me.  I am forgiving myself, my mother, my family for their reactions and fears.  I especially see my mom in a different light as she nears the end of her days on this earth.  The realization of her body’s frailty has negated my tendency to so harshly judge her, such as her decision to continue smoking.  Yet, I am the one still making a choice to judge just as I could instead make a choice to express compassion.  It is okay to love someone without reservation even if we don’t agree with their choices or if they engage in unhealthy lifestyles?  I just have learned that it is also okay to make sure that the other’s choices don’t impact me or children.  Still it does impact me because I watch her wither away before my eyes.
          I reflect back on her as mother, life giver and nurturer.  She really enjoyed having her babies.  She cuddled with us and tickled us while we lay in bed with her.  We talked and laughed and to a lesser extent cried and shared the real hard stuff of life.  That just wasn’t possible for her or didn’t come quite so easy for her.  It doesn’t come easily for me either.          
          Recently we dined and saw a movie together, Mama Mia.  Before entering the movie theatre, my mom brought up her funeral and burial requests.  I wasn’t prepared for her to bring the subject up as it was always subject matter that I inquired about.  Usually, she didn’t wish to discuss sickness or death, particularly her own.  Time for me stopped in that instant and I felt an authenticity and emotion in that moment that I don’t often witness or feel with my mom.  She said she’d like to be cremated and buried with her son, with my little brother John, dead before ever joining us in this world.  Here was my mom actually telling me something, a profound moment and an expression of missing the little one that she never even had a chance to hold or touch or see or smell.  She wasn’t asking to be buried with her husband of nearly 50 years but with the baby she never held, never nursed, never touched in living flesh.  Her voice didn’t crack when she stated this, but I could tell that she had been thinking about it and this was her choice to be joined with John if not in life than in death.  I embraced that moment as truly sacred for me and my mom.  An intimate moment passed between us and I saw her raw and naked humanity next to me.  That is when I knew that this loss had stayed with her for the rest of her life.  It mattered even if she never talked about it. 

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